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Did Verizon overreact by blocking 4Chan? Depends on whom you ask

Did Verizon Wireless overreact in blocking 4Chan.org? Depends on whom you ask.

Verizon says it didn't block the popular online bulletin board, but "eliminated connectivity" to portions of 4Chan that appeared to be flooding the network with traffic from a denial of service attack. The nation's largest wireless service provider said it would restore service to the site by the end of Monday.

"The most important thing we offer? Our network," Verizon spokesman James Gerace wrote in a blog. "When our network is attacked, or at risk of attack in a way that could harm our customers' ability to make and receive calls, or use wireless multimedia and data services, we jump to action."

4Chan, in an email to Post Tech late Monday, disagreed.

"4Chan did *not* conduct any kind of 'malicious attack' against Verizon's network and was mostly certainly 'blocked'," wrote founder Christopher Poole. He said the company wasn't warned ahead of time that Verizon would block its sites and compared Verizon's actions to an episode with AT&T last year.

Last July, 4Chan said it was blocked by AT&T because of a denial of service attack from portions of the site. The action sparked an uproar from users and critics who called the action a violation of free speech and net neutrality.

So what happened over the weekend? According to 4Chan, a denial-of-service attack was launched against the company's servers, spoofing the originating IP addresses so that it appeared to be coming from the Web site. But Poole said the attack was limited.

"The small number of SYN-ACKs coming from one of our servers would *ABSOLUTELY NOT* have degraded network performance," Poole wrote. And if Verizon would have informed 4Chan of its plans to eliminate access to the sites, it would have averted the public relations fallout from the action.

"Most likely a trigger-happy tech saw the traffic and instead of investigating, decided to blackhole the /32," Poole wrote.

The public Interest group Free Press said that despite the origins of the problem, carriers such as Verizon need to inform online users and Web sites of such actions. And, it said, the episode underscored the need for clearer guidelines for how Internet service providers control traffic over their networks.

"Currently, actions like Verizon's that likely serve legitimate ends ... follow no clear guidelines or standards," said Chris Riley, policy counsel at Free Press. "Clear rules of the road would not only protect consumers, but would also allow Verizon to act in response to security threats, without fear of reprisal."

By Cecilia Kang  |  February 9, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  FCC , Net Neutrality , Verizon  
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